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Look at this phaser design:

enter image description here

Why this design? Okay, it is very compact, but aiming precisely with such a thing should be almost impossible. Is there a reference where this design explained or justified? Maybe these devices aim themselves so no precise aiming is necessary. Who invented this design? I guess this guy never tried to aim with a handgun.

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For all we know it might have an aiming mechanism that - without wires or other immediately obvious connection - creates a connection with the eyes or ears to provide aiming information. I mean these days, you might have information fed to the eyes by a Google Glass type arrangement. But in the future, who knows..? – Andrew Thompson Aug 7 '14 at 12:17
limited recoil and allowing you to hit your target on any point of their body eliminates much of the aiming concerns. Try this out with a laser pointer, I bet you get pretty close to your target every time, even with limited practice. – Colin D Aug 7 '14 at 12:25
How long is that thing? Looks like the trigger thumb'll have to come a long ways past the grip to press a button. Lots of room for sweaty hand error. Then again the other two buttons (stun<->kill?) are too close to the trigger. It'd be a shame to try to shoot the thing, and end up only setting it on stun instead. – Wayfaring Stranger Aug 7 '14 at 13:15
Directed energy weapons needn't be as precise as projectile weapons for the same reason a fire hose doesn't need to be as precise as a squirt gun. – Monty129 Aug 7 '14 at 14:00
I think you underestimate how difficult it is to aim an ordinary pistol, with the awkward handle and trigger positioning that it has. But with a bit of practice, marksmen can become quite adept at such weapons, or simply use two hands - one to aim, and one to fire. I could see a similar strategy working here, though in most cases, since laser-type weaponry has no recoil and is quite accurate by its nature, that isn't necessary. – Zibbobz Aug 7 '14 at 14:59
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Phasers are not meant for anticipated combat. They are personal defense devices for away missions. As such, they don't need to be super accurate.

There are two raised bumps on the phaser just past the indicator light. enter image description here

Based on the way we see people firing these, you point it at arms length and perhaps aim with those two ridges.

enter image description here

enter image description here

Based on these images, the beam it produces is slightly lower than what you are pointing at (I blame the FX people).

You can also make the phaser beam become wider, requiring less accurate aiming.

enter image description here

If you are intending to go into actual combat, such as later during the Dominion War, you use a phaser rifle.

enter image description here

The stock and scope both lend themselves to pinpoint aiming.

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Wherever the beam goes

Concerning specifically the "hand vacuum" style which was popular around Picard's time, and not the more pistol or rifle stock variants, we should remember that phasers have one specific advantage for aiming over your standard bullet tosser:

They are beam weapons.

enter image description here

This means that unlike firing a bullet at a target and you have no idea where the shot will land until it actually collides with something - phasers give the wielder constant feedback as to where the energy is being targeted.

Or to put it another way, you would aim it the same way you aim a laser pointer.

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Yes, but that doesn't help with the initial aim point, which is rather important for a weapon that can vaporize most targets on contact. – Keith Thompson Aug 7 '14 at 20:11
It appears to me that in that picture, the beams are firing at different angles. Anyone else? – shelvacu Aug 7 '14 at 23:27
@KeithThompson if your intention is to vaporize the target, then does it really matter where the initial contact point is made? In the same sense, if the phaser is set to stun, then any contact should be sufficient, similiar to a tazer or stun gun. – Monty129 Aug 8 '14 at 12:41
@Monty129: It matters a great deal if the first thing you hit is something other than the target. – Keith Thompson Aug 8 '14 at 14:19
Try it with a laser pointer. You're probably going to hit something as large as a person the vast majority of the time. There is no drop to worry about, wind is not going to effect the trajectory, there is no recoil, there is no counter pressure to pushing the trigger. Firing the phaser is quite unlike firing a gun and isn't going to require sights for most targets up to a medium range. – joshbirk Aug 8 '14 at 20:45

Within the TV series, we see that the Type-2 ("dustbuster") phaser is basically a line-of-sight device. You wave it in the direction that you intent to shoot, press the button and the phaser beam emits in a straight line until it hits the target.

The Star Trek: Voyager Technical Manual explicitly states that there is no computerised targetting on the smaller hand-phasers. You aim simply by pointing and shooting at the desired target.

enter image description here

Since there's no obvious aim-point on the phaser, using them accurately would require a high level of familiarity. Within the show, we see various officers practising with their phasers in order to learn how to aim them competently and with precision.

The TNG Technical Manual describes the amount of target shooting practice (e.g. monthly for away-mission candidates) that is required before personnel are allowed to use phasers. We can reasonably assume that there will also be minimum range scores before you can go off the ship with a weapon.

enter image description here

enter image description here

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